Is Eating Peaches Ethical & Sustainable? Here Are the Facts

Is Eating Peaches Ethical & Sustainable? Here Are the Facts

By
Teresa Mersereau

Read Time:22 Minutes

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Around 625,680 tons of peaches are produced in the US every year. Whether you like to enjoy some juicy peaches during August (National Peach Month!) or appreciate them as an excellent source of vitamins A and C year-round, they’re a classic fruit with plenty of health benefits. But, some aspects of the peach-making process can harm the environment and even negatively affect the workers who pick them. So, we had to ask: Is eating peaches ethical and sustainable?

Eating peaches is fairly ethical. They don’t have major reports of harmful practices like child labor or forced labor, and their wages are reported to be particularly good for the industry. However, there have been some labor disputes and workers are subject to high pesticide exposure. 

Peaches are a fairly sustainable fruit. They don’t require excessive irrigation, they generally use fairly environmentally-friendly packaging methods, and have a low carbon footprint. However, they also use monoculture farming and high amounts of pesticides, which are fairly unsustainable practices. 

In this article, we will assess both the ethical and sustainability practices of the peach industry. Through these two lenses, you will be able to gain in-depth knowledge on the overall impacts of the peaches that you eat!

Here’s How We Assessed the Ethics & Sustainability of Peaches

The Sustainability Assessment of Food and Agriculture Systems (SAFA) is one of the ways we measure the externalities of our actions, like the consumption of peaches. It is a holistic assessment based on the potential impact of food and agriculture operations on the environment and people. Those impacts are changes in our environment that can have adverse effects on the air, land, water, fish, and wildlife or the inhabitants of the ecosystem.

Ethical: The discipline concerned with what is morally good and bad and morally right and wrong”

Encyclopedia Britannica

Ethics and sustainability are closely interconnected concepts that share a common objective: the well-being and preservation of our planet, including all its life and future generations.

Sustainable: The ability to be maintained at a certain rate or level | Avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance”

Oxford Dictionary

Basically, all goods and services you buy—including peaches—leave an impact on people, animals, and our environment. And when it comes to food in general—and peaches in specific—the following are key factors for their ethics and sustainability:

To understand the overall environmental impact of peaches, we must assess each of their key factors. This Sustainability Assessment of Food and Agriculture Systems (SAFA) is a tool developed for assessing the impact of food and agriculture operations on the environment and people. And this tool helps us to evaluate whether eating peaches is ethical & sustainable.

Here’s How Ethical & Sustainable Eating Peaches Is

The overall ethics & sustainability of peaches is fairly good; the industry offers decent wages to workers and their farming practices require low water usage. They only engage in a few unethical practices, such as some chemical dangers and labor disputes, and a few unsustainable practices, such as monoculture farming and high pesticide usage. 

There are many things that the peach industry does right. For example, they have a small carbon footprint, have economical land growth, and aren’t known to be associated with the worst kinds of labor practices like child labor or mass exploitation. However, there are still some unethical or unsustainable things you should look out for from peaches. 

So, let’s have a look at the ethics & sustainability impact of each key factor of peaches!

Key Assessment FactorsEthics & Sustainability
Social and economic conditions of peachesPeaches’ social and economic conditions are fairly good for the agricultural industry. They don’t have major reports of child labor, forced labor, or many serious hazards, besides potential pesticide exposure. 
Seasonality of peachesPeaches’ seasonality lasts from June to August. When they are out of season, they need to be shipped from South America, which compromises their sustainability. 
Land requirements for peachesPeaches’ land requirements are fairly low. However, they are grown in monocultures, which is a very unsustainable growth method. 
Water footprint of peachesPeaches have a low water footprint of 36 inches of rain per year. Because of where they grow, they also don’t need irrigation, which keeps their water footprint to a minimum. 
Agrochemical usage for peachesPeaches’ agrochemical usage is very high. This is because they use above-average amounts of pesticides and nitrogen fertilizer, which is particularly harmful to surrounding habitats and wildlife. 
Carbon footprint of peachesThe carbon footprint of peaches is 0.17kg (0.38lbs) CO2e per pound of peaches. This is mainly due to their transportation and waste management. The vast distances required to get peaches into American grocery stores drive up their carbon footprint considerably.
Waste generation of peachesPeaches’ waste generation is fairly low. This is mainly because they use cardboard instead of plastic packaging, which has a high recycling rate compared to other materials such as styrofoam. However, their organic composting rates are still fairly low. 

These are the overall summaries, but there is a lot more to the story. In the next few sections, we will dive deeper into each stage to illustrate to you all the important aspects of peaches’ ethics & sustainability.

How Ethical & Sustainable Are the Social and Economic Conditions for Peaches

Peaches’ social and economic conditions are fairly good for the agricultural industry. They don’t have major reports of child labor, forced labor, or many serious hazards, besides potential pesticide exposure. 

Everything we consume was made or harvested by somebody. In past centuries, this was often someone who lived in your community and who you might have even known personally. But through the rise of globalized distribution systems, we have become increasingly alienated from the people who make our food. This leaves a lot of room for exploitation and abuse, both of which are rampant in the food industry. Here, we will look at how the peach industry fares in relation to these ethical questions. 

How ethical & sustainable are the social and economic conditions of growing peaches?

In short, peaches don’t seem to have any significant accounts of poor wages, child labor, or serious exploitation in their industry, and so are a fairly ethical fruit. 

How Ethical & Sustainable Are the Seasonality for Peaches

Peaches’ seasonality lasts from June to August. When they are out of season, they need to be shipped from South America, which compromises their sustainability. 

Every fruit has a natural season in which they grow, usually lasting a couple of months, which can range depending on the region. However, international demand for every kind of fruit is year-round. This demand is often met by importing fruits from tropical places which can grow year-round, or by growing them in greenhouses. Both of these methods use more resources and are thus less sustainable than conventional farming. Here, we will look at how the peach industry accommodates year-round demand.

How ethical & sustainable is it to grow peaches in-season vs out-of-season?

  • When is the natural season for growing and harvesting peaches: Peach season typically lasts from the end of June to the end of August. This means that the freshest peaches you will buy will be found in stores during these months. 
  • How are peaches naturally grown in-season: You can buy US peaches typically from around May to October. Most US peaches are grown in South Carolina, so if you live on the east coast, you can buy fairly local peaches during the summer months. 
  • How are peaches grown out-of-season: Most peaches you will buy in the winter months will be from South America, of which Argentina is the biggest producer. These peaches require much higher travel times, which use a lot of fuel, and thus are less sustainable than locally-grown peaches. 

In short, peaches are considerably different in their sustainability based on when they are bought, with in-season peaches easy to find domestically and out-of-season peaches needing to be brought in from South America. 

How Ethical & Sustainable Are the Land Requirements for Peaches

Peaches’ land requirements are fairly low. However, they are grown in monocultures, which is a very unsustainable growth method. 

Illustration of global land use for food production
Our World in Data: Global land use for food production

The growth stage has a major impact on fruits’ sustainability. The amount of land used, especially in relation to its expansion, the method with which they are grown, and their effect on surrounding land and wildlife are all important factors. In this section, we will look at the ways in which peaches’ land usage affects their sustainability.

How ethical & sustainable are the land requirements for growing peaches?

In short, peaches’ use of monoculture farming, as well as their contribution to land degradation mean that they are not the most sustainable fruit when it comes to land usage. 

How Ethical & Sustainable Is the Water Footprint of Peaches

Peaches have a low water footprint of 36 inches of rain per year. Because of where they grow, they also don’t need irrigation, which keeps their water footprint to a minimum. 

Water usage is one of the most important factors in a fruit’s sustainability. Practices like irrigation use significant resources and can cause pollution, and as such, factors like the amount of water used, where it is sourced, as well as the way they affect the water sources around them, are all important. Here, we will look at these different angles of peaches’ water footprint.

How ethical & sustainable is the water footprint of growing peaches?

In short, peaches’ lack of irrigation requirements means they are fairly sustainable at this stage, even though their pesticide usage does cause damage to ecosystems. 

How Ethical & Sustainable Is the Agrochemical Usage for Peaches

Peaches’ agrochemical usage is very high. This is because they use above-average amounts of pesticides and nitrogen fertilizer, which is particularly harmful to surrounding habitats and wildlife. 

Pesticides and fertilizers are agrochemicals that are very unsustainable and damaging to ecosystems. This is because they require resources to create and can easily run off into groundwater and soil systems. Here, we will look at how sustainable peaches’ pesticide and fertilizer rates really are.

How ethical & sustainable is the agrochemical usage of growing peaches?

In short, pesticides’ use of both high amounts of pesticides and some of the more damaging fertilizers means that they are very unsustainable at this stage. 

How Ethical & Sustainable Is the Carbon Footprint of Peaches

The carbon footprint of peaches is 0.17kg (0.38lbs) CO2e per pound of peaches. This is mainly due to their transportation and waste management. The vast distances required to get peaches into American grocery stores drive up their carbon footprint considerably.

Illustration of global greenhouse gas emissions from food production
Our World in Data: Global greenhouse gas emissions from food production

Carbon footprint is one aspect of the overall sustainability of a fruit. It essentially measures how much carbon or other greenhouse gasses the production of fruits emits into the atmosphere. Emissions from product manufacturing, irrigation, transportation fuel, and landfills all add up to create the overall carbon footprint of a fruit. Let’s see how the carbon footprint of peaches contributes to their overall sustainability.

How ethical & sustainable is the carbon footprint of peaches?

In short, despite the high pesticide usage and transport distances, peaches still maintain a considerably low carbon footprint compared to other fruits. 

Related: Check out our full article on “What Is the Carbon Footprint of Peaches? A Life-Cycle Analysis” to find out all about the carbon footprint of peaches and how each stage of their life-cycle contributes to it (plus, what you can do to reduce your carbon footprint when shopping for peaches).

How Ethical & Sustainable Is the Waste Generation of Peaches

Peaches’ waste generation is fairly low. This is mainly because they use cardboard instead of plastic packaging, which has a high recycling rate compared to other materials such as styrofoam. However, their organic composting rates are still fairly low. 

When fruit waste, either in the form of packaging or organic materials, is disposed of, it can cause a lot of problems. Whether it’s damaging wildlife, getting into oceans, emitting methane, or dissolving into microplastics that contaminate groundwater, all these materials have their part to play. The sheer amount of waste we produce is reaching a crisis point and won’t be able to continue much longer. In this section, we will look at how sustainable peaches’ waste generation is.

How ethical & sustainable is the waste generation of peaches?

In short, the fact that peaches use one of the more easily-recycled packaging methods means their waste disposal is fairly sustainable, despite their low composting statistics. 

What Have Been Historical Ethics & Sustainability Issues Connected to the Peaches Industry

The peach industry has historically caused significant harm, both to people, with labor disputes, as well as to environments like waterways and forests, leading to wildlife endangerment.

All fruits have had a complex road toward global distribution. They originate in one part of the world and often travel far to end up in your local supermarket. From farm to table, some of our favorite fruits have used unsustainable practices. Whether it’s exploiting labor, deforestation to meet demand, water pollution, or disruption of wildlife, most fruits have left a path of destruction. Many of these effects are still felt today or have even increased. Let’s see how peaches have fared throughout history.

What have been the key ethical & sustainable issues of the peaches industry?

In short, the historical impact of peaches has been fairly negative, with unethical practices like wage delays and unsustainable practices like forest destruction being present. 

How Can You Reduce Your Environmental Impact and Offset Your Personal Carbon Footprint

There are a few things you can do to make your peach consumption more ethical and sustainable, while still enjoying them. You can also consider offsetting your personal and peach-related carbon emissions, which work to remove carbon emissions elsewhere that are then attributed to you. Here, we will walk you through how to accomplish both of these things.

How Can You Shop for Peaches More Ethically & Sustainably

In this section, we give you a short list of ways you can consume peaches in a more sustainable way. This list is designed to target the most unsustainable parts of peaches’ life-cycle:

  1. Buy organic peaches: Pesticide usage is one of the most unsustainable aspects of the peach growing process. Organic farms, however, generally avoid high amounts of chemical pesticides and nitrogen fertilizers and so they are good to support if you want to reduce the amount of pesticides involved in your food. Organic peach farms will also likely have fewer chemical dangers for workers, meaning they may also be more ethical. 
  2. Buy in-season peaches, locally: The difference between in-season peaches and out-of-season peaches is significant, with one being available domestically and the other needing to come from South America. As a result, it is important to try and buy peaches only in the summer, so you can cut down on transportation distances. 
  3. Compost and recycle: Cardboard may have a high recycling rate, but you have to make sure you hold that up. Recycle any cardboard packaging you get with peaches. Similarly, you should ensure that you compost any organic waste that is generated from peaches. If you don’t have a municipal composting program, consider making one yourself!

Following some of these methods can really help you to make your peach-eating more sustainable. None of these will completely eradicate the negative impacts, since there are always effects that may be outside of your control. But some reduction is always better than nothing!

Which Organizations Can You Support to Help Promote Ethics & Sustainability

While peach production engages in some very unsustainable practices, there are also some organizations that help you change the parts of these processes that would otherwise be outside of your control. These organizations are working hard to prevent and reverse damage to the environment caused by industries like peach agriculture, towards a more sustainable future.

In the table below are some of the best charities that work in the areas where peach production are very unsustainable—and beyond:

Overall ethics & sustainabilityBest charities that advance ethics worldwide
Best charities that promote sustainability
Social and economic impactBest charities that help farmers
SeasonalityBest charities that fight to protect our environment
Land requirementsBest charities for reforestation
Best wildlife conservation charities
Best charities for protecting the Amazon rainforest
Water footprintBest charities that fight for clean water
Best charities that help conserve our rivers
Best charities to save our oceans
Agrochemical usageBest charities for helping farm animals
Carbon footprintBest charities for climate change
Best carbon offsets for individuals
Waste generationBest charities that fight to reduce food waste
Best charities that fight to end plastic pollution
Best charities that promote recycling

Though it is helpful to boost the sustainability of your personal peach consumption, supporting these organizations takes your positive impact a step further. You will be reaching far beyond your own consumption impacts and helping to build a better world for everyone!

How Can You Offset Your Personal Carbon Footprint

The carbon footprint is a key part of how sustainable we live. And it is one of the ways we measure the effects of our human-induced global climate change. Yes, even from eating peaches!

Carbon footprint: the amount of greenhouse gasses and specifically carbon dioxide emitted by something (such as a person’s activities or a product’s manufacture and transport) during a given period”

Merriam Webster

Basically, it is the amount of carbon emitted by you as an individual or an organization providing you with goods and services – including peaches:

Illustration of carbon emissions from food
Our World in Data: Emissions from food alone would take us past 1.5°C or 2°C this century

Carbon offsets are reductions in carbon emissions that are used to compensate for carbon emissions occurring elsewhere – for example for the carbon emissions that are associated with peaches. They are measured in tons of CO2 equivalents and are bought and sold through international brokers, online retailers, and trading platforms on what is known as the global carbon offset market. 

Carbon Offset: a way for a company or person to reduce the level of carbon dioxide for which they are responsible by paying money to a company that works to reduce the total amount produced in the world, for example by planting trees

Oxford Dictionary

In terms of peaches – and indeed all food types – there will always be a carbon footprint, because of the resources it takes to get your food from farms to the place where you’ll eventually eat them. And while there are ways to reduce your carbon footprint when shopping for peaches, carbon offsets would be a way to reduce your CO2e emissions all the way down to net zero (or even to become climate positive).

However, when you purchase carbon offsets, it’s important that they actually make a difference in offsetting (aka reducing) total carbon emissions. To achieve that, the following are key criteria:

  • Carbon offset projects have to be effective (different projects have different effectiveness rates)
  • Carbon offset projects have to be additional
  • Carbon offset projects have to be permanent
  • The claims from carbon offset projects have to be verifiable

To find the best carbon offsets for you personally, check out our full guide on the best carbon offsets for individuals, where you’ll also learn more about how these carbon offset projects work, what their respective offsetting costs are, and what your best way would be to offset your own carbon emissions.

Related: Check out our full guide on “What Are the Best Carbon Offsets for Individuals: Complete 2024 List” to find the best carbon offset providers for your personal carbon emissions and those associated to, e.g., eating peaches.

Final Thoughts

When it comes to ethics and sustainability, you could do a lot worse than peaches. They only use relatively few unsustainable farming practices, such as monoculture farming and pesticides. They seem to have minimal ethical problems too, with a strong amount of US peach workers earning decent wages, despite some labor disputes. However, you can still do more to mitigate some of the less ethical or sustainable practices within peach farming, such as buying organic peaches or supporting organizations that work to improve labor and environmental conditions in the peach industry. 

Stay impactful,

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